Defying odds and expectations, brickbats and apathy, and even the death of over 700 of their comrades, the farmers of North India have done the near unprecedented – make the Modi government go back on its word. Since the time the present government came into power, little has been rolled back or reversed despite mass agitations and protests from minorities, women, workers and other citizen groups. But now, that unbroken juggernaut of one way traffic has been halted – even if temporarily. There are questions – what will the modality of repeal, what about the other key demands, such as those related to MSP, on which the government is silent, and so on. There is no trust in the Modi government’s intention or belief in his goodwill or lack thereof. It has been a long, hard year. The bitter cold, the horrific images of tractors running over fragile old men, immense police violence, media allegations (including the deliberate mixing up of an old woman protestor with Bilkis Bano of Shaheen Bagh) – nothing has been forgotten. But for now, the sweetness of victory lingers.
Women are the backbone of India’s agriculture industry. They have also been the backbone of almost all resistance movements in recent history, and the longer past. Young women, old women, grandmothers, children – irrespective of age and the generations that divide them, women have staked claim to the questions of human rights, citizenship, gender justice, labour rights, and other questions that society does not see or deliberately obscures. Aura spoke to a few women activists on the ground for their immediate reactions:
Adv Tanya Tabassum
On the need for intersecting movements:
“The long running farmers’ protest has forced the Modi government to roll back the three laws. People have fought for their rights. The same citizens of India will snatch back their other lost rights that were taken from them. People are struggling on many fronts – Labour Code, New Education Policy, privatization, CAA-NRC-NPR – there is a need for such struggles against all such laws. Only an uncompromising fight of the people paves the way to victory. There is a lot of struggle left to carry out.”
On the reaction to the news:
“Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are celebrating the news, raising flags of victory and distributing sweets. I have spoken to many of farmers at Tikri border, they say the fight is not over. They say, “We have no faith in a verbal promise. Unless we see it in writing that the laws have actually been repealed, we will stay here.”
On the negative role of the media:
‘Media organisations of the present government’, is a constant refrain in conversations with the farmers and their slogans. As the protest grew, it became obvious that there was a gap between the reality of the farmers’ problems and demands, and the narrative being constructed by the national media, especially TV channels. But social media platforms have also played a huge role in the movement through the power of hashtags.
On the demand of MSP:
On MSP and agrarian distress:
On privatization and an organized response:
“The current farmers’ movement won one of the major victories of the recent political history of India where people resisted the government and brought back policy level changes. While the movement has significantly raised the level of social and political consciousness of the people, it has also become a reckoning force of resistance against the wholesale loot and privatization of national assets by the Modi regime. The movement that started in Punjab and Haryana not only brought together farmer organisations from all over the country but also coalesced trade unions of small shopkeepers, students, youth and women’s organizations into a united front.”
Reports over the past year have shown that many of the women in the protests – such as 70 year old Malan Kaur, who never went to school but listened to recorded videos to learn about the laws, or Nodeep Kaur herself, who was in jail for two months – have unshakeable will and a thirst to do something for their community beyond the ordinary. Statistics show that nearly 75% of full time workers on Indian farms are women, and that they work double – 3300 hours almost – than that of their male counterparts (1860 hours) in a given crop season. This is their victory too, and that of their existence.